“Are they giving you wine back there or are you just listening to my bullshit speech?”

At last week’s conference, I attended a 3+ hour seminar on dry Riesling given by Terry Theise.   Terry’s often off-color comments and his selection of incredible wines made the time fly by.

Terry "I put the heed in hedonism" Thiese. During the seminar he also described himself as a "grey beard" and a "silverback".

We sampled 20 German and Austrian Rieslings that Terry imports, attempting to help him answer two questions, “First, what is the nature of the market for dry Rieslings?  And, second, what can educators do to make it grow?”  We did significantly more tasting than question answering, but I can understand why consumers have hang-ups about Riesling:

  • The labels are confusing.  I’m not even referring to the fact that they may be in a different language.  It can be impossible to tell if you’re going to get a sweet or dry wine, even if you’re familiar with the country’s wine laws or the particular producer’s style, as it may vary depending on the vintage.
  • They don’t come cheap.  Out of the 20 we tasted, one retailed for $19 and another for $25, but even these “good values” aren’t in the average consumer’s price range for even a semi-regular purchase.  When you add a restaurant mark-up to the equation, forget it.
  • Consumers still think of Riesling as sweet.  This, of course, is not always the case, but for some reason, many folks associate dry wines with sophistication.  As Terry noted, “the singular genius of Riesling is its ability to be delicious and useful in almost every variation of dryness and sweetness”.  Can your Chardonnay or your Sauvignon Blanc do that?

Hopefully, with more time, education, and passionate folks like Terry or Paul Grieco, more consumers will get on the Riesling train.

Some highlights from the tasting, with average retail price:

  1. 2009 Selbach-Oster Schmitt (Mosel, Germany) $34.  Floral, peach, slight petrol, pronounced minerality and crazy acidity.
  2. 2009 Gysler Weinheimer Kapellenberg “S” (Rheinhessen, Germany) $28.  Apple blossom, bacon smoke, certified biodynamic.
  3. 2009 Nigl Pellingen “Privat” Erste Lage (Kremstal, Austria) $66.  Meyer lemon, boxwood, licorice, minerals and an incredibly creamy mouthfeel.
  4. 2009 Spreitzer Lenchen Erstes Gewächs (Rheingau, Germany) $39.  Apple, nectarine, peach, or as Terry noted, “an 11 out of 10 on the suck it down scale”.
  5. 2009 Eugen Müller Forster Freundstück Spätlese (Pfalz, Germany) $31.  Lime jello, white flowers, or “a cheerful puppy that licks your face”.
  6. 2008 Schloss Gobelsburg “Tradition” (Kamptal, Austria) $54.  The tradition here refers to old-school methods: fermenting in oak, racking instead of filtering.  Rounder, gentler style, or “everything that great white wine can be”.
  7. 2008 Wagner-Stempel Heerkretz Grosses Gewächs (Rheinhessen, Germany) $82.  Electric, with lime and underripe peach.  Terry exclaimed, “Ok, baby, we’re takin’ a ride! I like to use technical terms.”
  8. 2009 Leitz Rüdesheimer Berg Kaisersteinfels Alte Reben (Rheingau, Germany) $42. Incredible complexity – the citrus fruits, the stone fruits and the minerality all ran together.  Terry called it the “perfection of dry Riesling”. 

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